|Thursday, June 17 Report
Rise of Flight: Iron Cross Edition: On Thursday morning SimHQ staffers Joe and Chipwich met with Jason Williams, President, and Max Goryuchkin, the VP of Business Development for 777 Studios. While the purpose of our meeting was to discuss the upcoming Iron Cross edition of Rise of Flight, Jason and Max offered a broader view of ownership, development, and distribution of the Rise of Flight, their critically acclaimed WWI combat flight simulator. The fine details we will leave up to 777 Studios to make public. However, other than the release of the Iron Cross edition, in general terms 777 Studios is taking over development and distribution of Rise of Flight, and neoqb will be phased out. To our ears this is very good news, because we know that Jason is very passionate about flight simulations. When a title as good as RoF is falls into the care of passionate flight simulation enthusiasts, who happen to have business acumen, the outcome is usually a win-win for the combat flight simulation community as a whole.
As far as the upcoming Iron Cross edition, it is not a major code refresh, but rather, let’s call it a distribution refresh. That distribution will begin initially as a boxed version, and will include all of the improvements to the sim since its original release, as well as some bonus aircraft and other add-ons, such as skin packs with something like 350 additional skins. The game manual and maps have been improved. A impressive new Quick Mission Builder is included, perhaps one of the best ever seen in a flight sim. Jason gives a thorough walkthrough of the QMB to SimHQ in this two-part YouTube video:
To Jason, these are examples of how he transition of Rise of Flight ownership to 777 Studios opens up creative development beyond what the original owners had envisioned. We agree, and rest assured that SimHQ will do a thorough review of Iron Cross as soon as it is released. Lastly, Jason wanted to let current RoF owners that they will not be left out, and he and Max are working on a way to thank their loyal customers.
Call of Duty: Black Ops: ConManly and Magnum went to a private presentation of Black Ops from Activision, coming this winter to PC, Xbox 360, and PS3. We entered the private room with a big screen HDTV on the wall, 5.1 surround sound, and an Xbox 360. The presenter warned us from the start that there are no questions allowed, no pictures, no audio devices, and no filming. He then went on to show two missions in the single player campaign. First off, the game was pre-alpha so there were some bugs observed, like an enemy chopper flying through a rock. Sounds were strong, but the explosion animations looked off. The first mission was a stealth mission in Russia. First, the player takes control of an SR-71 and offers intel on the enemy soldiers. Then the player fades down to ground level where you perform a stealth insertion to a base, eliminate enemies, then blow up something.
In the next mission, you’re an escaped POW in Vietnam who clears a camp, steals a HIND, and then proceeds to destroy the entire Laotian jungle.
Call of Duty: Black Ops is, well, Call of Duty. Sure it’s a new location, a new time period, and has different guns and equipment, but it’s still the same as all other Call of Duty games and the other 100 that are trying to be Call of Duty games. A lot of fire, explosions, and gunplay. A movie you’re the star of. Little to no tactics besides taking cover behind a rock or something. If you like all the other Call of Duty games, you’ll like Black Ops. If not, you won’t. Nothing more was presented about the game.
Ship Simulator: Do you know which simulation software has sold over a half million copies since 2005? You are thinking a title like Microsoft Flight Simulator? How about a ship simulator? Originally a professional maritime simulation developer, VStep has brought their expertise in creating highly detailed and realistic ship simulations to PC gaming. Ship Simulator launched as a basic version of the professional ship simulation, in Germany it sold 30,000 copies in the first two months. Publisher Paradox Interactive, now poised to launch their third version, Ship Simulator Extremes, looks to bring the genre to more simulation enthusiasts with exciting missions that include ship to ship rescues, and those of Green Peace in their effort to in interdict the whaling industry.
VStep Chief Marketing Officer, Frank Dolmans, gave SimHQ a broad overview of Ship Simulator Extremes that included a video of game play, and a rundown of the simulations major features. He began by an impressive statement, and that was that the ship 3D models are based on the actual blueprints from the ship’s design or construction. Therefore, there is little chance of misrepresenting the architecture during the creative process. What I saw of the Ship Simulator world was indeed detailed and beautiful. Mr. Dolmans demonstrated how the ships, of which there are a large selection of vessel sizes and types, are affected by accurate fluid dynamics, which in turn are based on the prevailing weather. There are single and multiplayer missions included so that the virtual captain can put his maritime knowledge and skills to the test. In one example, Rainbow Warrior II is commanded to bring about a successful end to an anti-whaling mission. In multiplayer mode, one ship captain may call on another to perform a rescue. Look forward, as we do, to a hands-on review of Ship Simulator Extremes when it becomes available.
Test Drive Unlimited 2: How do I explain the sub-genre of this driving game? It is most certainly not a racing sim. And it’s not an arcade racer. Really, it’s a new sub-species — the Massively Multiplayer On-line Driver Role Playing Game, or MMODRPG for ‘short’. TDU 2 expands on this unique concept, started in the original, by adding additional ways to socialize while in the game universe’s persistent and open environment. And that universe is large, with over 3000km of unscripted roads, highways, and trails from the Ibiza coast area of Europe that you can explore and drive on while the sun circles your virtual world every 2.5 hours and weather randomly changes. Everyone on the server experiences the same environment as well, which is very neat. Our briefing was given with great enthusiasm by Vince Farquharson from the development team.
In the original TDU, players had to coordinate to meet on a certain road in order to see each other and do things together. TDU 2 expands on more realistic or intuitive ways to socially interact in the environment.
With the open-ended universe, drivers can buy cars, and drive anywhere they want to, exploring the Ibiza coast’s roads and geography. You can try out any or all of the 600 ‘missions’, or you can challenge other players you encounter to races or competitions, call on your friends to meet you for a race or group drive, meet up in a socializing location outside of the cars, or menace the other cars on the roads like a total jackass. It’s all good in TDU 2.
In TDU 2 you can Bookmark friends to see when they’re online and where in the game universe they are, join clubs or guilds that enjoy certain aspects of the game together, participate in shared competitions vs. other clubs, and meet up outside of cars at clubs, showrooms, and other venues. You can even walk around other people’s cars, check them out, and even sit inside — pretty neat. There are some elements of this kind of driving RPG that would be interesting to add to the physics engine of a full on racing sim to combine the best elements of RPG and racing simulation; maybe someday you could drive to the track, walk around the other cars, enter your garage, and then go drive a realistic sim. The possibilities are endless. Even though TDU 2 isn’t a high-fidelity racing sim, it does have merit. To see more of this gaming concept, check out the trailer here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a6C4RtnMjP0
Chipwich and Chunx got to drive the latest working version of the title, and found the concept and application quite intriguing, even though it isn’t a racing sim by any means. Maybe a “driving lifestyle sim” would be a better description. We started out in a very upscale showroom, walking around and checking out cars with another journalist who in-game looked like a really hot chick, but we digress. After buying an Audi TT, we left the dealer and headed off onto the roads of Ibiza, driving wherever we chose. Eventually, we were directed to the other player and challenged him and his hot-chick avatar (creepy, we know) to a street race around the block (which Chunx won). Later we met up on a country road for a “follow the leader” driving tour through the hills. Overall, it was a very different experience than straight-up racing, but an entertaining one that could be quite addicting if done with a group of friends.
SuperStars V8 Racing: Joe, Panther, and Chunx tried out a racing game that is being distributed by North American publisher O-Games. It’s called SuperStars V8 Racing, and it depicts the Italian SuperStars racing series. There are a number of Italian tracks included,such as the famous Monza circuit.
The title has very few configuration options: number of laps, grid position, sunny or wet “weather” (which really just means dry or wet track; it doesn’t actually rain), and AI difficulty. O-Game representatives attempted to convince us that the AI strength setting (easy, medium, hard, legend) was a physics fidelity setting — an unfortunate manifestation of the “harder is more realistic” line of thought. Despite assurances to the contrary by the publisher, the title is pure arcade; you can’t lock the brakes (even in the wet at the end of the Monza front straight), there is no pit strategy, and there are no car setup options. However, it’s not all bad. The AI seemed remarkably well-behaved (probably too much so for a touring car series), raced fairly, and seemed to acknowledge the player car’s presence on track. Plus, ConManly set the track record at Monza! The title is cross-platform (PS3, Xbox 360, and PC) and will support major racing wheels. SuperStars V8 Racing will be available in the US in August 2010 (and apparently is already available in Europe) and will cost only $19.99.
Realview: This company is demonstrating “Deepscreen” technology for flat-panel computer monitors and HDTVs, The intent of the technology is to create a 3D effect without actually requiring 3D hardware. It does so through a special lens that straps around the TV.
Jared Earle, Realview Systems Administrator, demonstrated the technology on a 22” HDTV. In his words, Deepscreen will enhance any material, be it game output or television programming, with depth in it. In practice, we found the effect distracting and gimmicky. The myriad lights of other E3 displays reflected in the Deepscreen didn’t help, either. Deepscreen is available in August and retails for $179 for a 22-inch lens, with higher prices for larger sizes. We recommend you save yourself the money and the headache.
3D Gaming: ConManly visited Sony at E3 to try some of Sony’s 3D games and see if they were an up and coming feature or just a fad. Sony is trying to revolutionize the gaming industry with 3D gaming. Gran Turismo 5 (GT5) and Killzone 3 were major titles that were being demonstrated in HD and 3D. Here is the duplicitous nature of gaming; the younger age group favors 3D technology. With big cinema hits like Avatar — in the 3D theater, optimists believed there is a definite future in 3D. Grouchy pessimists, like the SimHQ folk, were weary of the 3D technology. ConManly was weary, but decided to weigh the pros and cons of 3D gaming.
Gran Turismo 5 had 6 2D HD games set up alongside 6 3D games. GT5 had a two long lines, which were both for the 3D setups. If a gamer wanted to play the game in 2D he needed only 30 seconds of waiting before he entered the empty racing seat. If a gamer wanted to experience 3D, the wait was around 30 minutes. ConManly and Chipwitch played the 2D game for about 30 minutes, with little hassle from the Sony’s GT5 assistants. People are cleraly excited about 3D. ConManly wanted to see what the fuss was all about and so he waited in line for 30 minutes like everyone else. There are a couple of things that people should know about 3D gaming in general. First, it would cost about $3,000 for a base model 40” 3D TV at this point in time. Our understanding is that these TVs are only compatible with 3D data, so could only be used for special titles; an HD TV can be used for any title. Lastly, the glasses were wired to the TV; extension cables may be required for comfortable living room use.
The 3D in GT5 was not that impressive. Panther and ConManly described the GT 5 3D as a moving pop-up book. Chunx noticed the trees around the track were very two-dimensional. Joe hardly noticed the 3D while driving because it was not striking enough. The 2D images were stacked so you could tell they were at different distances, but it was not visually aesthetic. It didn’t hinder the racing experience, but it didn’t greatly aid it either. Panther and Joe felt that the 3D in GT5 was utterly inconsequential to the experience. It seemed to the public and exhibitors that the 3D effect in GT 5 was an afterthought.
Then ConManly played Killzone 3. The team that created Killzone 3 really put a lot of effort into the 3D effects. It was impressive. Was it perfect? No, but it is cool getting excited about the visuals. ConManly talked with some developers and they said that Killzone 3 was made with 3D in mind and was a big part of the development. In short, well done. The visuals of the futuristic soldiers and oil rig were chaotic but beautiful.
The unanimous consensus was that we would rather allocate $3,000 to other purposes. However if the art of 3D really takes off and the industry expands, the option might be a realistic addition to the gaming community, especially when prices for 3D TVs eventually drop (of course, the 3D glasses are another story…).
Forza Motorsports 3 with Kinect: Forza Motorsports 3 was on display with Kinect technology on Tuesday, but had vanished by Wednesday morning. Why? We don’t know. What we do know, however, was that the game-within-a-game that was being demonstrated with Forza 3 was a passing exercise, where you air-turned your hands and dodged your way around slower cars. What’s missing in this scenario? Throttle and brake “pedal” operation. We suspect that Kinect is not yet capable of simulating such inputs, and based on the “air driving” video in Tuesday’s E3 report, we shudder to think what antics may be required if these inputs are incorporated.
Tactile Feedback Devices: SimHQ got to try two considerably different tactile feedback devices today. The first was the Immerz KOR-fxdevice, a platform- and title-independent device that fits over one’s shoulders. Inside two pads that contact the pectoral area of the chest are tranducers, and the audio from your TV, game, or movie is passed through a breakout box that connects to the transducers and rumbles them accordingly. We were able to test out the KOR-fx with Burnout (an arcade racer), Left 4 Dead 2, and the T-Rex attack seen from the first Jurassic Park movie. Rumble effects were impressive and enjoyable, but an audio-based tactile feedback device can only ever be so precise. The KOR-fx device will be released around Christmas 2010 and will retail for $190.
The second tactile feedback device we saw takes a completely different approach. The TN Games 3rd Space vest features eight pneumatic actuators inside a vest, and the actuation is controlled via data input on a title-specific basis instead of using audio. A small compressor feeds the actuators.
The 3rd Space vest for console use is controlled via video signals. The user selects which console and which title is in use, and the video signal from the console is passed through the control box. The vest then interprets video information to determine when a player is getting shot, from which direction the shots are coming, and how much damage is being done. This only works for titles that are supported, of which there are about 40. Currently the vest’s breakout box only supports composite and component video cabing, precluding the use of the vest with HDMI connections. The console version will cost $189 and will be available in October or November 2010.
The PC version of the 3rd Space vest requires no breakout box since the processing and title identification are done inside of the PC. Only a few major titles are supported, such as Call of Duty 2 and a modded Half Life 2, but the response of the vest can be better because actual data designed for the vest can be coded into the game. Since there is no box needed, the PC version of the 3rd Space vest costs $139, and is available now.
Panther and ConManly used the vest with an Xbox 360 with Gears of War 2 and liked it; they could tell the direction of incoming fire and used it to more effectively return fire. Joe used the vest on a Playstation 3 with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and found it a less enjoyable experience. There was a 2- or 3-second lag between being shot and feeling it in the vest. More importantly, there was very little left-right directional information included in the vest. He also felt it was a very creepy feeling being shot in the back. A wireless version of the 3rd Space vest is coming soon, although the compressor will still need to be connected.
Fallout: New Vegas: The Bethesda booth admitted ConManly and Magnum into the media-only area. Fallout: New Vegas had many consoles set up with a number of near-finalized games. The story is completely separate than the events in Fallout 3. There are two main organizations, NCR and CL, that control the area. The RPG forces the player to align himself with one of those groups. The CL is supposed to be about order, while NCR is supposed to be about freedom; the karma and reputation system measures the player’s morality. Also, there is almost a 100% increase in the number of guns included. The guns have mods and there will still be unique weapons, but no bobbleheads. The new game offers a hardcore mode that factors in dehydration, ammo weight, and allies that can die permanently. There are mini games such as blackjack in the city of New Vegas. Fallout: New Vegas looks the same as Fallout 3 graphically, but adds great new elements, a new story and a new setting.
HKS Hipermax 3 Racing Controller: For those who don’t know, HKS is a well-known maker of aftermarket performance parts for automobiles. Now HKS has expanded the scope of their efforts to reach out to their consumer base by teaming with gaming manufacturer InterWorks by creating a PS3 controller that is uniquely optimized for arcade driving games. Joe, Chipwich, Chunx, and Panther all showed up for an appointment with HKS and InterWorks to try out the new controller concept.
Looking sharp in its candy apple red metallic finish (inspired by the real HKS CT230R drift car), the Hipermax 3 controller retains the standard form factor for a wired PS3 controller but changes the control scheme in an effort to optimize it for driving games. Most prominent on the left side of the controller is what looks like a giant mouse wheel that’s easily operated by your thumb. On the right side of the game pad are two spring loaded levers that act as brake and throttle, which are operated by your right thumb. The thumb wheel is easy and intuitive to use with just a little practice. Conversely, the right thumb’s brake and throttle seemed to suffer from some backlash and it was tricky-to-impossible to easily work the brake and throttle simultaneously, making modulated brake or throttle use difficult — although for the types of games the developers envision the HKS Hipermax 3 being used with, this probably isn’t an important issue.
With a little re-training of your hands’ muscle memory, the HKS Hipermax 3 controller pad might be an improvement over a standard game pad, but only slightly. For precise car control in any driving game, a wheel and pedals are still your best solution. However, if you don’t have room or budget for a wheel, then this new HKS controller might be a good space- and money-saving alternative.
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